WCAG 2.1 – What is Orientation?

In a previous post we mentioned that one of the main reasons why the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the WCAG 2.1 guidelines was that they were influenced by the introduction of mobile devices and the ten year old WCAG 2.0 guidelines couldn’t test certain features. This post, on Orientation, is an example of a problem that can now be tested under the updated guidelines.An example of orientation on three mobile phone screens

The Problem with Orientation

When only desktop computers used on the internet, there were a very limited number of screen sizes and they had a fixed position. With the advent of smart phones and ubiquity of mobile devices two problems have been introduced. First, the open nature of some mobile operating systems such as Android have meant a large variation in screen sized and densities. Additionally, their handheld nature allows for two distinct interchangeable viewports (portrait and landscape) on the same device. This means that a website not only has to automatically adjust itself in order to fit to the screen, but also to a screen which is being held in either orientation.

1.3.4 – Orientation (Level AA)

The success criterion on Orientation states:

Content does not restrict its view and operation to a single display orientation, such as portrait or landscape, unless a specific display orientation is essential.

Examples where a particular display orientation may be essential are a bank check, a piano application, slides for a projector or television, or virtual reality content where binary display orientation is not applicable.

When a user visits a web page on a mobile device, they may decide to change the orientation of their device in order to view the page in a more comfortable way. This could be to read text easier, or for a video to fill the screen.

If a website has not been created with orientation in mind, then some parts of a website may not fit on the screen, limiting the interaction of users with the content. Furthermore, a user may permanently have their screen in a specific orientation and a website should keep to the orientation that the user requires.


It’s important to note that locking the orientation is not an automatic fail of this criterion. There may be reasons why a website or app developer may choose to lock the orientation in either landscape or portrait mode. The guidelines give the example of a banking app that includes a cheque feature. It makes sense to have cheques orientated across a landscape screen.

Furthermore, on mobile devices there is often the ability to lock the orientation to stop the device from changing the view. This can be useful, such as when viewing the content while lying down or if a user has the device permanently mounted in a specific way. This criterion states that if the orientation of the device is not locked, and there is no reason why the content must be limited to a specific view, then the orientation should change on demand of the user.


The Orientation criterion has come into existence due to the increased use of smart phones and the way that we use them. Some users may find it easier to view a page in a specific orientation, whereas others may have their device permanently mounted and turning the screen may be difficult.

A website should automatically adjust itself to either landscape or portrait unless there is an essential reason why this may not be the case.

Is your website responsive?

With over 50% of global website traffic now coming form mobile devices, it has never been more important to ensure your website is ready for all users, and that they are getting the best possible experience regardless of platform or ability. If you have never tested your website for orientation changes, or it’s been a while since it’s been tested, feel free to contact us at Dig Inclusion, where we can talk in greater detail about orientation and how your users can benefit from this feature.